Friday, February 24, 2006

Shooting At Our Friends


"The terrorists want our nation to become distrustful," England said. "They want us to become paranoid and isolationist, and my view is we cannot allow this to happen. It needs to be just the opposite."

- Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, former Secretary of the Navy, also the first Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr. England is completely correct, and this whole episode of false accusations against DP World and the U.A.E. has done more damage to American long-term interests in the Middle East than the last year of terrorist operations, because it supports the charge that Americans are racist and cannot discern between their friends and enemies in the Middle East.

Whether or not the deal goes through now, damage has been done, and the questions now revolve around how to prevent a recurrence of this type. Obviously, port security needs a closer look than it has received, but it should be cast in something more mature than a panic-filled collection of worst-case possibilities. Most people don’t realize that port security has been a significant element in national security since the days of Sir Francis Drake, who reportedly hired Basque workers to sabotage the Spanish Armada in 1588. A few action movies based on faulty information (and really, do we want to give the enemy solid information on how we protect our ports?) and Hollywood’s poor opinion of the United States military have managed to scare people into thinking that our docks are under the collective management of some variant of the Three Stooges. But I leave that discussion for now, if for no reason beyond the fact that few people have cool heads to discuss it.

But the issue also brings into question the matter of the Middle East as a whole. To win the War on Terror, we essentially have three options, none of them easy:

1. Kill everyone in the Middle East, except for Israel.
2. Pick a border and hide behind it, a la “Fortress America”.
3. Destroy enemies, make friends, and establish democracy

That’s it folks, you have to choose one of them. There really is no viable fourth option that I can think of. Option one is, of course, not really feasible. It might be possible to wipe out the entire Middle East if one were truly determined, but not without killing off Israel as well, and a lot of other people. But the big reason is simply that the United States recognizes individuals, and while it may be necessary to kill some innocent individuals in order to win a necessary war, it is inconceivable that the United States would knowingly wipe out a region of the world in order to eradicate terrorism, even if we did not have allies in those countries as well. The second option has been tried before; it was popular with Jimmy Carter, for instance, and through History by a number of nations. It’s never worked, and always leads to the enemy kicking in your door.

So we are left with the third option, as was obvious from the beginning. Our military is very, very good at the ‘destroy enemies’ part – so much so that a declassified intercept of Al Qaeda’s transmissions (thank you Austin Bay) includes warning that AQ’s operatives “are experiencing one setback after another and have gone from misfortune to disaster.” In simple terms, it means we have killed a lot of Jihadists, and a lot of the ones left out there have to wear come variant of Depends as they become better acquainted with American military doctrine.

But there remains the larger job, of establishing a stable alternative to the whacked-out hysteria of praising Allah by killing people. For some reason, maybe Michael “Feed Me” Moore and his ilk, far too many people still do not understand that nations in the Middle East are not identical to one another, and even within a given nation, you can find a wide range of individuals and groups. Certainly not as wide as in the United States, but even so, those who see only in monochrome miss a lot of what is going on. Iran, for instance. On one level there can be no question now that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as unbalanced as Adolf Hitler, or at least on the level of Josef Stalin – a canny but extraordinarily cruel man who delights in planning death and destruction. This nutcase truly believes, for instance, that he was surrounded by a green halo when he spoke at the United (Socialist) Nations in 2005, and is on record as claiming the Holocaust never happened. He also blamed the bombing of an historic Mosque on the United States and Israel. Sounds a bit like his version of the Reichstag fire, don’t you think?

Yet in that same country there are thousands of young students, risking their safety to protest against the government, and to demand freedom and rights, even when they are imprisoned and beaten for doing so. This, in Iran! Imagine the possibilities, if the youth in Germany had protested against Hitler in 1937 in this way.

Also, there are nations whose records in how they act towards Americans and to our government, are distinctly worth recognizing. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, are scorned in public as somehow unstable or untrustworthy, but their record shows strong support for U.S. policies and the military, and their courage standing up to Osama Bin Hellbound when the name meant a real threat is not something which should be forgotten.

Yes, two of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks came from the UAE, but they had no government connections, and cannot be said to accurately represent the government’s policies anymore than Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen who served in the Army, reflected American citizens’ views or the governments policies when he set off his bomb in Oklahoma City.

Yes, it was official UAE policy to recognize the Taliban, but the United States still officially recognizes only the Communist “People’s Republic of China” as the legitimate government of China, but not the freely elected leaders on the island which we call Taiwan.

Context matters; Hysteria is quite unwanted.

A reader earlier this week mentioned that the United States has treated our allies in the Middle East as disposable. Perhaps in a military sense and in the short-term, you can get away with that, but in the long run, the only way we win in the Middle East is to establish permanent and serious ties with the good guys over there.

Such good guys do exist. I know this because I have met some of them, and heard from more, and know about many more. And our military and our government people know them, as well. They include people in their militaries, the police in their cities, even their businessmen. I’m not pretending that your average Arab looks forward to the day when he can work a 40-hour week for a corporation, have hot dogs and beer for lunch and watch baseball on TV, but I can promise you there are Arabs and Middle-Eastern men who want to take care of their families, who want honest government and even-handed laws, who want to practice their faith without fear of violence or repression, and who want a decent chance to succeed on their own skills. I know this, because I have talked with such men. And there are places where they have hammered out something not unlike a decent nation.

In the end, the United States can only build a solid and successful Middle East by creating and building strong alliances. Not out of fear from a Communist or Fascist enemy, but by stressing common ground and purpose, by disproving the lie that Americans hate Arabs and Islam, and by showing we are willing to trust those nations to a certain degree. We already are, you know, by putting some of our bases in their hands and trusting our servicemen to their people in many ports of call. I am not saying we should become naïve about real security issues, but the terrorists win if they get started shooting at our friends.

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